ABSTRACT

This article contextualizes Philo Judaeus’s treatise De Confusione Linguarum in rhetorical and intellectual history. While most interpretations of the Tower of Babel legend have found that its primary function is to explain the dispersion of the world’s diverse nations and languages, Philo argues that the “confusion of tongues” signifies a more basic existential condition. For Philo, this confusion disrupted humankind’s capacity for perfect communication, helping us value rhetorical action as an essential element of the confused, ongoing process of struggle that characterizes our everyday sociality. The confusion of tongues, therefore, simultaneously gave rise to rhetoric and the masses, as it imposed a principle of difference in language and discordant heterogeneity in the social order.

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